Being overtaken by our first porter. This one worked for a different company. "Manchester Utd," said Efraim, comparing their red uniforms to those of the English footie team.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
I slept like a log at the Tiki Wasi Valley Hotel, the hotel bed was the most comfortable I slept in on the entire trip. One last taste of luxury before 3 nights in a tent!! I slept for a solid 8 hours before waking up at 5am to the sound of extremely heavy rain. Ugh great!! As if I didn't have enough anxiety about the trail without adding a heavy downpour into the mix. Hello.... land slide; it's not like it hasn't happened before. I was seriously bricking it, forget the prescription for altitude sickness pills, anti-anxiety would have been more appropriate.
Melissa and I joined the rest of our group for breakfast at 6.30am. I was perversely pleased to note that I wasn't the only one who looked nervous at the prospect of hiking in the heavy rain.
"Perhaps it's not raining in the mountains," said Jacqui optimistically.
Our trail guide Efraim arrived at the hotel at 7.20am and by 7.25am the 4 of us - myself, Melissa, Jamie and Sarah. Jacqui was doing the Lares Trail - were on the mini bus with 7 members of the multi-national group we'd also come across on our stay on Amantani: Greg & Nicole, a Canadian couple; Junko, a midwife from Japan; Roisin, a banker from Ireland; Sara, a medical student from Germany and last, but not least, Max & Rose, a Malaysian couple based in London. Accompanying us on the trail was our guide Efraim and his assistant guide, Miguel.
The minibus ascended slowly through scenic Peruvian farmland. Perhaps this whole hiking thing was a joke, perhaps we'd be driving!!
A girl can dream.
At 7.55am we arrived at the trail checkpoint and took the opportunity to run to the loo - the last chance for a couple of hours - while our guides and porters did their thing.
If I had to pick one single aspect about the Inca Trail that just blew my mind, it was the job the porters did!! Wow, how amazing are these guys!! Seriously I have the cheek to complain about my job, these guys do back-breaking work!!
In 2000 Peruvian authorities limited the number of hikers on the Inca Trail to no more than 500 per day in an effort to curtail overcrowding and erosion of the route. Of these, approximately 300 are porters and the remaining 200 are tourists. The porters are employed by the various companies that operate tourist treks along the route to carry all the bits and pieces required by the tourists during the 3 night, 4 day trek: tents, kitchen equipment, food, dining tables and chairs, you name it they carry it, even a gas canister!! The porters run on ahead of the tourists to set up equipment, so that when you arrive at the camp sites everything is ready for you. This photo journal on the BBC is told from the perspective of life as an Inca Trail porter.
In 2002 the Peruvian government introduced a law to improve conditions for the porters including a minimum wage and the introduction of a weight limit of 20 kilos - prior to the 2002 law some were carrying closer to 50kilos. From what I can gather from various websites and the trailer for this documentary this law is not well enforced and many porters are still not treated well. Had I known this before the trip I don't think I would have taken it, although on the flip side at least I am now aware and able to contribute to charities trying to improve the porters' working conditions, although I hate the fact that I may have perpetuated an unpleasant environment, although all our porters seemed pretty jovial so hopefully they were treated well.
The above photo shows one of our porters consolidating our bags - which weigh a maximum of 6 kilos - into a large bag that he would carry on the trail.
At the check in we were also given our little bag of snacks - 3 boiled sweets, a piece of fruit and a chocolate bar - for the day's trail before heading to the checkpoint to show our passports and trail passes. As we passed through the checkpoint Miguel, our assistant guide stood at the end ready to stamp our passports with an Inca Trail stamp. Kind of cheesy, but I liked having the proof :-) It was brass monkeys out, and we were all layered up in coats, scarves and gloves, but Miguel was dressed in only shorts, a fleece top and sunglasses. Perhaps he knew something we didn't.
A group photo before we begin!!
And we're off!!!
On the first day of the trail, the so-called easy day - 'piece of cake', said Efraim frequently - we would walk 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) and ascend 2,700-3,000 meters in altitude (roughly 8,850-9,840 feet).
Despite the rain - which was fairly light by this time - you get hot very quickly on the trail, even in places where the terrain is relatively flat and you're exerting less effort, and members of our group were soon stopping to peel off layers. Take my advice, wear one layer less than you will think you need, and suck it up and brave the cold for the first hour, because whatever you take off you have to carry, so it's better to make do with a scarf, hat and gloves to keep you warm because they are easy to remove and stuff in your daypack. I can also highly recommend this lightweight jacket I bought from REI for the trip, it was absolutely perfect.
As it turns out our assistant guide, Miguel, did know something :-)
Chickens!!! Or rather, chicken!!
And um....donkeys. I totally wasn't expecting them.
Another thing I wasn't expecting to see on the trail....homes. People LIVE on the trail route
I also didn't expect to be nowhere near completing this blog post by 11pm, my bedtime unless I am in the mood for a little Jon Stewart, so I'm going to stop here and continue another day, however I'll leave you with this photo of the Perurail train transporting "the lazy people" to Machu Picchu ;-)